Drivers in New Zealand caught using the Apple Watch in an ‘unsafe’ manner at the wheel risk an $80 fine and 20 demerit points, the same penalty as using a cellphone.
But police would be hard-pressed to prove the Apple Watch was being used illegally, because some of its functions – voice control, or hands-free use, for instance – are legal in cars in NZ. So too are two-way radios, or walkie-talkies, another Apple Watch function.
Apple’s latest device can also be used as a phone to make and receive calls, texts and emails. Under the Land Transport Road User Rule, police could stop and penalise a driver who they believed was being distracted by its many functions. From 1 November 2009 it became illegal for drivers in NZ to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
The User Rule defines mobile phones as
(a) a portable electronic device whose functions include being a telephone:
(b) does not include a CB radio:
(c) does not include any other kind of two-way radio:
(d) does not include an earpiece or mouthpiece that is connected, physically or otherwise, to a mobile phone to allow a driver to use the phone without holding or manipulating it.
“The intent of the law is that if a device includes the functions of a phone, it will be covered by restrictions on use”, said the New Zealand Transport Agency’s media manager, Andy Knacksted. “Paragraph (a) would appear to cover the Apple Watch and similar devices.”
But policing the use of Apple Watch at the wheel could end up in the ‘too hard’ basket. For example, a driver could claim they were using the walkie-talkie or voice control function, both legal under the User Rule.
The Apple Watch will go on sale in NZ next year, allowing users to check messages, make phone calls, send emails, surf the web … the list goes on. The Apple Watch blurb includes: “Sending and receiving messages is easy … you can dictate a message or select from preset options … Use the built-in speaker and microphone for quick chats, or seamlessly transfer calls to your iPhone for longer conversations.
“You can also transfer calls from Apple Watch to your car’s speakerphone or your Bluetooth headset. When you get mail, Apple Watch alerts you right away. You can read the message, then flag it, mark it as read or unread, or move it to the Trash.”
Britain’s Department of Transport is reportedly looking at “further options” to deal with the growing market of ‘wearable’ technology. Earlier this year, a US court dropped a case against a driver who was caught speeding while wearing Google Glass as there was no evidence it was active.
Police in New Zealand last year wrote 13,518 tickets for cellphone-related traffic offenses. The NZTA said 21 deaths and 175 serious injuries resulted from driver distraction. Research has shown that driving while talking on a hand-held mobile can be as dangerous as driving at the legal blood/alcohol limit – and it can increase the risk of being involved in a crash by 400 per cent. Even more dangerous than talking is texting or emailing.